The Weekly Commentary of JTS KOLLOT: Voices of Learning
Rachel Ain, JTS Senior Rabbinical Student
Genesis 25:19 - 28:9
November 29, 2003 4 Kislev 5764
Sibling conflict is not a new story in the Torah. Isaac knows well his own history of sibling rivalry with Ishmael. They spent years apart, yet reconciled over the burial of their father Abraham. So too in this week's parashah we see a rift between two siblings. Jacob stands before his father Isaac in disguise and takes a blessing that rightfully belongs to Esau. Upon hearing this, Esau cries out to Isaac, "Have you only one blessing, father?" (Genesis 27:37) How could Isaac, the father of both sons, in fact choose only one son to bless? How could there in fact, be only one blessing? If we claim that there is only one blessing, are we as Jews any different than those few in the Christian faith that continue to espouse the belief that supercessionism is a legitimate understanding of the relationship between the Jewish faith and the Christian faith? Esau's question begs that we, in a world that is at times torn apart by the belief of one blessing, find the opportunity to dialogue with those of the Christian faith.
As student at JTS, we each have the opportunity to take classes at a non-denominational Protestant seminary, the Union Theological Seminary, which is directly across the street from JTS. I took a class with Professor Mary Boys called "Studies in Christian-Jewish relations." This class was a model for inter-religious learning since Jewish and Christian students were able to dialogue about our own faith and each other's faith, in each other's presence. I found myself in the unique position of being able to dialogue alongside believers of another faith, while retaining the values and beliefs of my own tradition. Dr. Mary Boys, in her book Has God Only One Blessing? forces Christians to reevaluate themselves in light of Judaism. Boys believes that Christianity needs to understand that its history, faith and relationship with God is not dependent on the Jewish religion or its relationship with God. Rather, she writes "Our history would have been radically different if we could have seen that God's relationship with one tradition does not diminish the sacredness of the other's."
How can we nurture dialogue and understanding? As a community, we have already taken steps. In 2000, four esteemed Jewish scholars wrote Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity. They acknowledged the steps that have been taken by certain official church bodies toward remorse about Christian mistreatment of Jews and Judaism. In this document we read that "Jews and Christians worship the same God. Before the rise of Christianity, Jews were the only worshippers of the God of Israel. But Christians also worship the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, Creator of heaven and earth. While Christian worship is not a viable religious choice for Jews, as Jewish theologians we rejoice that, through Christianity, hundreds of millions of people have entered into relationship with the God of Israel." At the same time we are fortunate to have the document, A Sacred Obligation: Rethinking Christian Faith in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish People, written in 2002 by the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish relations. In this statement we read "God's covenant with the Jewish people endures forever. For centuries Christians claimed that their covenant with God replaced or supercede the Jewish covenant. We renounce this claim. We believe that God does not revoke divine promises. We affirm that God is in covenant with both Jews and Christians."
Just as both of these documents are based on the understanding of God's multiple blessings which, imply distinctiveness, they also find common ground on which the religious traditions can work together. We read in Dabru Emet that "Jews and Christians must work together for justice and peace," and we read in A Sacred Obligation that "Christians should work with Jews for the healing of the world."
Reconciliation after conflict is not easy. The reconciliation narrative between Esau and Jacob later in Genesis is fraught with tension. But as we know they do reconcile. May each of us be blessed with the understanding that we can live in and thrive in our own tradition, while recognizing the multiple blessings that those around us receive. In doing so, we will engage in interfaith dialogue which is so crucial to our hope for peace in a world torn by strife and misunderstanding.